When I was expecting my children, I knew that the first few weeks would be especially hectic between getting acquainted with a new little person, less sleep, doctors visits, and everything else that having a newborn entails. I carefully planned and prepared as much as I could to ease the transition for my family. A big part of my plan each time has been freezer cooking.
My first big foray into freezer cooking was when I was getting ready for my first baby. I did not have a separate freezer – only the freezer on top of our standard-size refrigerator. Still, I managed to pack the freezer with enough dinners to last us about five weeks, along with muffins, breakfast burritos, cornbread, and biscuits. Since then, although I do not always cook quite so much, freezer cooking has become a regular happening in my kitchen. When I was expecting my second baby, I made a plan to get us through the first six weeks, again with just one small freezer. So of course when I was expecting my third baby, filling the freezer was on my mind again.
This last time around was a bit different than the previous two. For one thing, we have two opinionated toddlers to feed; for another, we now have a large upright freezer. The dramatic increase in storage space made the decision to cook more food easy.
For every day cooking, it’s easy to just double a recipe and stick half in the freezer. But when you are looking at several weeks of food, making a more detailed plan is essential. No one wants to be stuck eating chili every day for two months. If you want to fill your freezer, do not start cooking without a menu plan.
I started my plan by choosing seven categories – I like using categories for my menu plans, especially longer-term menu plans, because it helps build in variety. You can categorize by mode of cooking (oven, slow cooker, pressure cooker, etc.), regional cuisine (Italian, Indian, Tex-Mex, etc.), types of food (pastas, casseroles, big pieces of meat, vegan, etc.), or really anything that you can conjure up. This time I chose:
- Baked in the oven
- Slow cooker
I wanted to make enough food for eight weeks of dinners, so I planned four weeks of meals that could be repeated to make an eight-week plan. We have finally finished eating our freezer meals, and I am happy to report that this plan worked out very well for us. Granted, we also had Thanksgiving and Christmas thrown in the middle to mix things up, but there definitely would have been enough variety even without those holiday meals. In the past I have used six-week menu plans that were structured the same way (three weeks of meals repeated to make a six-week long plan), and that was enough variety for my family.
After a lot of tinkering, this is the menu plan that I arrived at. We followed it more or less as written, occasionally inserting another leftovers night or swapping meals as needed:
Check back next week for Part 2, where I share the foods that I did not prep for the freezer, and what I did instead.